Voice of Business: Give young professionals a chance to ditch the desk

Chris Kershner is president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce

Credit: Caroline Williams

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Chris Kershner is president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce

Credit: Caroline Williams

As a Gen X leader in 2022, I remember the days when I was working hard to get face-time with the boss, prove myself to my peers, and taking on new projects that I had no clue how to manage. I was also doing all this on a salary of $19,000. It wasn’t easy, but it got done.

The approach from today’s young professionals (YPs) is different, and there is nothing wrong with that, but we have to make sure we are providing the right environment for success – and success in Dayton means interpersonal connections, building relationships and creating a tribe.

These foundational principles of business advancement will never change. Providing this environment has become increasingly more difficult as we enter an era of more flexible workspaces. As leaders, we have to be more intentional about creating opportunities and building a workplace ecosystem that allows these future leaders to showcase their skills. At the same time, YPs have to be willing to step away from the desk too.

Professional growth doesn’t come from sitting behind a desk eight hours a day. It takes a commitment beyond the tactical work to invest time in others, connect with people in-person, and have a truly authentic appreciation for others to build valuable relationships. Experienced, insightful leaders see the value in creating this type of environment for young up-and-comers, and young leaders should embrace it in order to achieve true professional and personal growth.

The way our current YPs approach a challenge is exciting and refreshing, and the perspective they bring to the workplace is uniquely them. I’m fortunate to have a tremendous team at the chamber, and a number of them are the best young professionals I’ve ever had the honor to work alongside.

I learn from these leaders every day and in turn, I personally believe I have a responsibility to make sure they have every opportunity for success. It’s my responsibility to provide the same experiences and professional risk-taking opportunities I once had as a 24-year-old.

Creating an environment where YPs have the chance to meet internal and external business leaders is a must. Forcing them out of their comfort zones and into situations where they network with others, carry on interpersonal conversations, and build relationships, is essential. It might make them uncomfortable today, but they will appreciate it tomorrow. We will build the community and our YPs will hustle it.

Dayton business leaders have a reputation of coming together in this community to create change. Now, we must use this skill to protect one of our greatest resources and the next generation of business leaders in this community.

We have to fill the pipeline, but it can’t be done sitting at a desk. Let’s come together to find a way to invest in our next generation of leadership, build a system that allows them to connect in-person with peers, and give them an environment ripe with opportunity.

Chris Kershner is the CEO and president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.